Ubuntu is a Xhosa word originating from a South African philosophy that encapsulates all our aspirations about how to live life well, together. It is the belief in a universal human bond: I am only because you are. And it means that if you are able to see everyone as fully human, connected to you by their humanity, you will never be able to treat others as disposable or without worth. By embracing the philosophy of ubuntu and living it out in daily life it’s possible to overcome division and be stronger together in a world where the wise build bridges, not walls.
Review of the book:
Some days I go to bed feeling disconnected, sad, a failure. The day seems so long with hectic work, school assignments and worse than that, social media feeds that keep on reminding me of things I lack. It has taken me a long time to learn how to focus on what’s important in my life and how to handle all the information I get from the internet.
This book has brought together all the ideas and lessons I’ve been getting in one simple solution: Ubuntu, a South African philosophy which teaches us that we’re all deeply interconnected. By practicing ubuntu, we can fill our lives with meaning as we engage with our deepest humanity.
This philosophy asks us to look outward, acknowledging the humanity in others. When we do this, our behavior transforms. It’s impossible to mistreat others if we recognize their inherent value. Every person we interact with becomes worthy of our respect, whether they’re our long-term partner or the moto guy delivering your food.
Ubuntu challenges us to flip our thinking. Instead of using other people as a point of comparison, it invites us to focus instead on what someone else brings to our lives. Their contribution might be small – a stranger holding the door open for you, or huge – a loved one caring for you while you’re sick. As soon as we shift our thinking to how someone has contributed to our lives, we let go of our notions of lack and competition. By looking outward in a positive way, we start seeing how connected we are to the lives of those around us. And this sense of belonging brings us comfort.
To connect with others we need to understand their perspectives. When we take the time to occupy someone else’s perspective, we start seeing how they’ve arrived at their positions, even if we disagree with them. We see that someone’s actions are often less about us, and more about their own set of circumstances.
Respect is the keystone of ubuntu. It teaches us that if we respect ourselves, we’re more likely to respect others. And on a similar note, when we dehumanize others, we also dehumanize ourselves. By practicing self respect we have to take care of ourselves. If we don’t, how will we have the energy to help others? Fostering self-care means taking the time to eat well, exercise, spend time with loved ones, and tend to our mental health. This might mean asserting respectful boundaries – like taking a proper lunch break at work – even if that’s difficult to assert. Another step to practicing ubuntu is to treat others with respect, regardless of who they are. This means paying attention to how we think of others. To treat others with more respect, pay attention to how you speak. Do you reduce people to stereotypes, like “the delinquent teen,” or is your language dignified and open-minded?
People will hurt you and that is inevitable. Your friends will forget your birthday. A stranger will push you down while entering a bus. Sometimes, though, we’re deeply damaged by the actions of others – physically, mentally and emotionally. In these times, forgiveness seems unfathomable. We cling to our position as the injured party because we’ve been wronged. But all this does is force us to relive our pain, instead of giving ourselves the chance to heal. Forgiving others is an act of self-love; it heals us emotionally. It’s important to remember, though, that forgiveness is a process. If you’ve been wounded deeply, you may need to recommit to forgiving several times over. This will take patience and persistence; but it’ll be worth it in the end, when you feel lighter, less burdened, and more connected with others.
Ubuntu encourages us to set aside our differences, and recognize that all humans are on this thrilling and terrifying adventure of life together. If we were all the same, the world would be a very boring place. From the food we eat and the music we enjoy, to the ideologies we live by, diversity is a blessing we all benefit from. To truly embrace diversity, we must first acknowledge that every individual is of equal value, no matter who they are. We are no more – or less – important than any other fellow human. This kind of thinking takes humility. We have to shed our egos, and be humble and open enough to discover what other people can teach us. Everyone brings something unique to the table. With patience and respect, we can find out what that offering is.
We’re all interconnected. We might think what someone has to say has nothing to do with us. But by listening to them we develop our own sense of empathy, through finding connection and common ground. In return, we ease the burden of the person sharing their story, reinforcing their intrinsic worth by acknowledging that what they have to say has value. Remember: “I am because you are”.